Political and political columnist Marc Cushing is a policy strategist, lawyer, founding partner of the Animal Policy Group and founding member of the Veterinary Virtual Care Association. Since 2004, he has specialized in animal health, animal welfare and veterinary education and accreditation issues. He is the author of “Pet Nation: The Inside Story of How Pets Are Transforming Our Homes, Our Culture, and Our Economy.”
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How does America ensure that we have enough dogs so that puppies don’t become a luxury and out of reach for low-income and middle-class families?
The Pet Leadership Council funded two research initiatives in 2015-2016. One was a nationwide survey by the Moore Information Group to determine the number and demographics of dogs and dog owners in the United States. The other was a Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine study of admissions, adoptions, transfers, and euthanasia in US animal shelters. These projects led to a preliminary conclusion that shocked many: euthanasia had dropped by orders of magnitude, but America still faced a dog shortage. A 2017 headline in The Washington Post read, “Does America Have Enough Dogs For Everyone Who Wants One?” Most observers were taken aback by the news flash, and the underlying problem remained a side topic in the animal industry.
Then COVID-19 arrived, and the following headline in The Washington Post appeared on January 6, 2021: “So Many Pets Have Been Adopted During the Pandemic That Shelters Are Running Out. The national story caught everyone’s attention, and similar stories flourished in the mainstream media. Media interviews with me always started with questions about the impending dog shortage, a chapter in my 2020 book “Pet Nation.”
So where are things today? Local shelter representatives and national animal welfare officials are taking the issue seriously and conversations are ongoing between them and the industry. For example, a June 2022 conference sponsored by PetSmart Charities and the Association for the Advancement of Animal Welfare focused on dog sourcing. The Chicago event followed a series of talks in late 2021, including a deep dive sponsored by Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine and Professor Dr. Candace Croney.
Additionally, Purdue and its Certified Canine Care program hosted a two-day conference this summer that featured a wide range of speakers on humane animal husbandry and good veterinary science.
Let’s get one thing clear here: Overcrowded conditions and high euthanasia rates are common in shelters in rural South and parts of Texas, including major cities like San Antonio. But the norm in the East, North, West and much of the South and Southwest is reduced shelter populations.
Finally, people are also taking this question seriously: how does America ensure that we have enough dogs so that puppies don’t become a luxury and out of reach for low-income and classy families? mean ? Keep in mind that the 2015 Moore Information Group survey found that Americans with household incomes under $30,000 owned dogs at the same percentage as Americans with household incomes over $100,000. $. At the same time, the puppy mill issue, spearheaded by a highly influential policy team from the Humane Society of the United States, is gaining momentum in legislatures — Illinois notably — and in Chicago. We are not yet at a point of consensus within the animal welfare community.
do the math
What are the numbers? Surveys consistently show that 44% of US households have a dog, and 40% to 42% of those households have more than one. Factoring in the 2020 U.S. Census of 126.8 million occupied U.S. households and the breakdown of one, two, three, four, and four+ dogs per household, the total number of dogs comes to 94.9 million. However, here’s where the numbers vary widely: The Institute for Animals and the American Pet Products Association put the total at nearly 79 million, and other experts put the numbers even lower.
Credit goes to PetSmart Charities for devoting serious resources and analysis to understanding the large-scale numbers. But while we have admissions and adoption data streams from shelters and the animal welfare community, we don’t have quality data from commercial and hobby breeders and family and family sources. puppy communities.
Additionally, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in August 2019 that more than one million dogs per year arrive in the United States from overseas. This is a prime topic for further study and debate. If Americans need 7-8 million dogs each year, foreign dogs must be a significant percentage of the supply. How do we feel about this? Can we be sure that imported dogs are raised humanely and disease-free (with veterinary records and vaccinations) upon entry?
Focus on the source
All of which brings us to the subject that generates the most interest and controversy: commercial breeding in the United States. As I mentioned, we don’t have reliable data from commercial and hobby breeders on how many puppies are made available to pet owners each year. The puppy mill political battle has created massive mutual distrust between the industry and critics, so the lack of data is not surprising.
An ongoing problem is the assumption that a commercial breeder is, by definition, a puppy mill. I do not share this point of view, but I admit that it is widely shared. We are also not helped by 75 of the 76 land-grant universities (Purdue being the exception) that study animal husbandry and provide extension services to ranchers of all kinds of species except dogs. Land grants could help here with America’s favorite pet species.
The obvious but elusive solution is for all parties, including legislatures and city councils, to agree to humane animal husbandry standards so that pet owners and the animal welfare community can be confident that commercially bred puppies are raised humanely, ethically and with proper veterinary care. Fortunately, Purdue’s Dr. Croney has done just that with a comprehensive set of standards rooted in best veterinary and animal husbandry practices. Purdue University and Dr. Croney went a step further and had an independent professional auditor verify that individual breeders are complying with these standards. All of this work falls under the Canine Care Certified trade name, and the auditor has certified over 120 commercial breeders in compliance. Many of these ranchers are from the Amish community, which has come under attack from animal rights groups.
The situation will improve if veterinary colleges beyond Purdue devote resources to training students to work with breeders and make collaboration a desirable feature of veterinary practices. Resources should not be limited to commercial breeders, but rather shared with hobby and community breeders nationwide. Interest is growing among groups such as the Functional Dog Collaborative in New England and animal welfare leaders like Joyce Briggs.
All sectors of the pet care and service industry will thrive if the future is one where consumers are confident that they are buying or adopting a humanely raised, family-friendly dog. Everyone wins if America develops a sustainable and affordable supply for dogs.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Maldives, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, prohibits private dog ownership. The Islamic nation only allows police K9s.